Next week marks the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) during the Holocaust, when the Nazis raided Jewish homes on Nov. 9-10, 1938 before World War II.
“Under a pretext, the Nazi party attacked and destroyed Jewish homes, hospitals and schools,” National Chamber Ensemble Artistic Director Leo Sushansky told WTOP. “They were ransacked and demolished with sledgehammers. Kristallnacht comes from the word ‘crystal night’ from all of the glass shattered in the streets; 91 people were killed also.”
Echoes of that bigoted mindset are heard in the recent rise of antisemitic rhetoric from American public figures, language that will not go unchallenged by the arts, from Ken Burns’ powerful documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” to local music events.
The National Chamber Ensemble is mourning Kristallnacht and celebrating the resiliency of the Jewish people with a Saturday concert at Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s a tragic moment in history and we’re marking that date, but we’re not going to totally focus on the tragedy,” Sushansky said. “We’re going to remember it, then we’re going to celebrate Jewish music and culture that has become part of mainstream American culture.”
The set will feature John Williams’ theme from “Schindler’s List,” as well as Alexander Goldstein’s “Trio on the Roof” for violin, clarinet and piano based on “Fiddler On the Roof.” You’ll also hear works by Ernest Bloch, George Gershwin, Roman Ryterband and more.
Sushansky, a violinist, will perform these works alongside piano virtuoso Carlos Cesar Rodriguez and acclaimed clarinetist Julian Milkis, the only student of Benny Goodman and Cantor Arianne Brown of Adas Israel Congregation. Daniel Heifetz will guest host.
Sushansky grew up in New York City and studied at The Juilliard School before attending grad school at the University of Maryland in College Park. He later became concert master of the Maryland Symphony and taught violin at Mary Washington College, now the University of Mary Washington. He founded the National Chamber Ensemble 16 years ago.
“It’s been an amazing 16 years,” Sushansky said. “I don’t know where the time went. We were having too much fun to notice … I wanted to make concerts welcoming, fun and less formal. That’s what we’ve been doing for 16 years … our first season included maybe 8 to 10 artists, but we’ve had over 50 or 60 artists that have performed with us over the years.”
This “Sweet 16” season is dubbed a “Season of Cultural Expressions” with five concerts, including this weekend’s Jewish celebration and a concert of Christmas carols on Dec. 10.
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